CINCINNATI — Hundreds of Pirates fans stood, twirled their towels and chanted “Let’s Go Bucs!” as Jay Bruce hit a grounder for the final out, setting up a playoff game in Pittsburgh.
Baseball, this time.
Neil Walker hit two of Pittsburgh’s six homers — its biggest power surge in six years — and the Pirates clinched home-field advantage for the NL’s wild card playoff game by beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 Saturday.
Pittsburgh will host the Reds on Tuesday night in the Pirates’ first playoff appearance in 21 years. Pittsburgh went 50-31 at PNC Park, the third-best home record in the NL, and wanted to make that long-awaited playoff return at home.
They got what they wanted. The postseason will start at PNC Park.
“It’s going to be a really exciting time,” Walker said. “Something a lot of people haven’t experienced with Pirate baseball. I imagine it’s going to be Steeler-esque on Tuesday.”
The Reds will go with Johnny Cueto (5-2) in the one-game playoff against left-hander Francisco Liriano (16-8). Mat Latos was on schedule to start for Cincinnati, but manager Dusty Baker said he’s developed a sore arm.
The Pirates won five of nine games against the Reds at PNC Park this season.
“The important thing for me is getting the guys home and playing in a park where we won 50 games and giving our fans a taste of postseason baseball,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh hit five homers off Bronson Arroyo (14-12), who had never given up that many in a game in his career. Walker homered twice off the right-hander, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez also hit solo homers, and Marlon Byrd had a two-run shot that ended Arroyo’s outing in the fifth and made it 6-3.
Latos isn’t the only Reds starter who’s hurting. Arroyo said his back started bothering him Saturday.
“It locked up right before the game,” Arroyo said. “I was in the tunnel. It was like I was being stabbed in the ribs and I couldn’t swivel from side to side.
“I don’t think it had much to do with the game. You can’t leave balls in up the zone in this ballpark against that lineup and get away with it.”
Prospect Andrew Lambo hit his first homer off Logan Ondrusek, the first time the Pirates had six in a game since Aug. 22, 2007 at Colorado.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton also struggled, leaving with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth. Vin Mazzaro (8-2) fanned Zack Cozart and retired Ryan Hanigan on a fly ball as the slumping Reds left the bases loaded for the second time in the game.
Cincinnati stranded 11 runners overall.
Both teams already had clinched wild-card berths heading into their weekend series. Whoever took it would host the one-game showdown. Pittsburgh made quick work of it, winning the opener 4-1 on Friday night and then the second game, too.
“Better to be home than on the road,” McCutchen said. “Today showed how bad we wanted to go home. We answered in a big way.”
The Ohio River rivals have met five times in the playoffs — 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979 and 1990, when the Reds won their last World Series title. The Reds are 13-7 against the Pirates in the postseason. Pittsburgh has played the Reds more than any other team in the playoffs.
The Reds have gone into a deep slump at a very bad time. They’ve lost four in a row since clinching a playoff spot with a 3-2 win over the Mets on Monday night, scoring a total of six runs.
They were at it again in the first inning on Saturday, leaving the bases loaded when Todd Frazier flied out.
Walker and McCutchen hit back-to-back homers in the third for a 2-0 lead. Brandon Phillips had an RBI single and Jay Bruce followed with a two-run double for a 3-2 lead in the third, Cincinnati’s first lead since Monday.
And it didn’t last long.
Alvarez led off the fourth inning with a first-pitch homer, tying it at 3. Alvarez’s 36th homer gave him 100 RBIs. Walker hit his career-high 16th homer in the fifth inning — the first multihomer game of his career — and Byrd’s two-run shot ended Arroyo’s outing. Walker has seven homers in September.
Lambo’s pinch-hit homer let the Pirates tie the record for most by a visiting team at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003.
Notes: Walker has homered in five of his last nine games. … Alvarez is the first Pirates third baseman to drive in 100 runs since Aramis Ramirez drove in 110 in 2001. His 36 homers are a club record for a third baseman. … Byrd had three hits for the second straight game. … Philips fouled a pitch off his left shin in the fifth inning, raising a welt. He singled and left for a runner. X-rays were negative. … Joey Votto walked three times, moving him ahead of Joe Morgan’s previous club record for a season. Votto has walked 135 times.